Chamber offers solutions for Jacksonville’s IT labor shortage

(courtesy of Jacksonville Business Journal)

Florida needs to fill more than 22,500 IT positions this year. It would take Florida’s colleges nine years to meet that demand, based on the current graduation rates of Florida’s computer science degree programs.

“The problem is the demand,” Dale Johnston, senior vice president and chief information officer of Regency Centers Corp. (NYSE: REG), told the Jax Chamber IT Council Tuesday.

Johnston noted that Florida, and Jacksonville in particular, loses out to IT demand in other markets.

“I’m losing people to Atlanta; I’m losing people to Raleigh,” said Johnston.

Jacksonville’s IT workforce ranked 43rd in Amazon’s list of 50 cities considered for its second headquarters, he noted.

“They knew they would have crushed us,” said Johnston, who was relieved Jacksonville didn’t make Amazon’s cut.

Given Jacksonville’s tight supply and IT’s growing demand, Johnston decided to stop complaining and be part of the solution, he said. In that effort, the Jax Chamber IT Council and CIO Council have made two inaugural scholarships to incoming freshmen at the University of North Florida.

“We just put this together,” said Johnston. “We just did it… It’s important for us as our industry’s leaders to lead by example.”

The councils presented Jhett Beyler with a $2,500 scholarship Tuesday; Bailey McIntyre was presented with hers at last week’s Tech Coast Conference. The pair was chosen by a UNF School of Computing committee, who looked for incoming freshmen with greater than 3.75 grade point averages and declared majors in computing.

The scholarships are part of what Johnston identified as the keys to meeting demand for IT professionals: keep local talent in Jacksonville, graduate more computer science majors and develop tech talent more quickly. To accomplish these, Johnston challenged local tech companies to engage with the community.

Johnston hopes these efforts will show students that IT is fun, diverse and lucrative.

“It’s something that the pipeline definitely needs,” said Johnston.

In combination, these efforts should not only make more students interested in IT careers but keep them in Northeast Florida, Johnston noted. He encouraged local IT companies to step up and “set a mission for your organization to be engaged in IT talent development for 2018,” and to make an annual pledge from then on.

“Let’s do something about it,” said Johnston.

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